In a time when big-budget titles and trendy new genres are keeping the spotlight, one could easily be excused for overlooking some of gaming’s smaller releases. But for every Fortnite there’s a multitude of lower-budget, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it game releases of varying quality every week. It can be difficult to know which of these budget-friendly experiences are worth your time and money, but let me get help you out: Slay the Spire is one of the most fun independent games available on any platform, and overlooking it could be a huge mistake.
I’ve never cared for card collecting games of any sort due to their convoluted design and RNG-focused gameplay. Slay the Spire changed that within minutes of booting it up. It all began with its simple and accessible gameplay loop: Players are tasked with climbing a spire using a map to navigate across various points in an effort to reach the top and, well, slay the spire. Each stop contains either monsters, a chest, a shop, a quick text-based chance encounter, or a resting spot that allows you to heal or upgrade your cards. Players are given a bit of control over how the map is navigated via branching routes, but overall it’s 30% planning and 70% RNG, leading to a beautiful mix of risk/reward and adaptation. If you’re killed during your travels, it’s game over and back to the start – yes, Slay the Spire is a roguelike. But unlike most roguelikes, Slay the Spire rarely feels like it’s wasted your time – unlocking new cards and relics (items that boost various stats or open new possibilities) always feels rewarding and breathes a sense of freshness and unpredictability into each run.
It all sounds simple on paper, and it may be the first game of its ilk that has ever managed to remain feeling simple in execution. I was never confused by the game’s core design, nor did I ever find myself frustrated by its RNG-focused game progression and combat. This is largely due to how much control Slay the Spire actually grants you in building, managing, and using your deck of cards. There aren’t any ambiguous cards that leave players running through dozens of maths equations – everything is very defined and simplified. Building a deck becomes easy for both newbies and veterans because of this, allowing the former to simply layer complimentary cards into their deck and hope for a bit of luck as they go while the latter can build complicated and dangerous decks to decimate enemies. Much of it is certainly based in luck since decks are only truly as good as the cards you come across on your run, but this only seems to increase anticipation and make each new run more exciting than the last.
Combat is extremely easy to grasp from the get-go with only two major combat elements to keep track of. For starters, the game is heavily focused on building up “block”, which essentially acts as a buff to protect yourself from true damage. If an enemy attacks you for 11 and you have 10 block, you’ll only take 1 damage. A collection of buffs and debuffs that can be applied to complicate things minorly, but it’s all presented so clearly that it’s never difficult to understand what’s happening or what to expect. Secondly, a plethora of attack cards allow you to deal damage to enemies. Many of them contain their own debuff of sorts that allow you to deal more damage with subsequent hits or wear down an enemy’s defences over time, all of which is expertly indicated and understood with clear and concise wording and visual representation. This attention to simplification one again makes Slay the Spire unusually easy to grasp for newcomers while maintaining everything needed for more advanced players to dig past the fundamentals and explore the intricate layers of the game.
Defensive play is highly rewarded in Slay the Spire. Building block is often far more effective than brute force, and thanks to a bevy of cards that boost the usefulness of blocking, it never feels like you’re just wasting time. Maybe you’ll find a card that will buff you so that you do damage each time you gain block, or you may come across a card that lets you gain block for simply attacking. This mixing and matching of blocking and attacking allows for an endless level of creativity and synergy. I was never bored on a new run of the game because I was always excited to discover how to best combine by cards for the maximum amount of usefulness.
Slay the Spire’s sense of presentation is both unremarkable yet charming. Its basic, painterly aesthetic is an ideal match for its accessible gameplay. Presented in a side-view not unlike JRPGs of the past, it’s attractive and uncomplicated to follow with character and enemy designs unique and varied enough to avoid becoming tiresome. It’s obvious a little more time could’ve been spent beefing up some of the game’s more generic enemy types, and bosses in particular feel visually uninspired, but developer Mega Crit Games have still created an unmistakable world for players to enjoy.
Whether I was managing and admiring my current run’s deck of cards, considering which new path to take, or failing a combat encounter and starting the entire thing back over, Slay the Spire never tested my patience like so many other games in the genre. It manages to skirt past tedium and rise up as a truly magnificent example of what card collecting games can be, and with consistent updates and improvements to keep players coming back, it’s a game I won’t be putting down any time soon.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Slay the Spire Review
Gameplay - 9/10
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 9/10
Replay Value - 9/10
User Review( votes)
Slay the Spire’s sense of presentation is both unremarkable yet charming. Its basic, painterly aesthetic is an ideal match for its accessible gameplay.